It’s important to note that The HIRS Collective are truly a collective, not a band, meaning no one member is more important than the next. In accordance with that, the person interviewed for this article will be referred to as “the collective member” rather than by name. Easy, right?
“It’s surprising in the media how many times they say, ‘We need your name,’” says the collective member.
2021 marks the 10-year anniversary (“in theory”) of the uncompromising Philadelphia band that throws elements of punk, hardcore, and grindcore into a blender, and out comes a style best described as blender-core.
The collective’s latest release is called The Third 100 Songs, which alludes to the fact it has recorded more than 300 songs since it formed.
“If someone doesn’t like a certain genre, they will say every song sounds the same. But if you really listen to our longer songs, ones that are more than 10 seconds, you will hear the difference, with different people writing them or producing them— giving birth to them,” laughs the collective member.
Yes, collective members are allowed to laugh.
Blasting chaotic music with a message, it’s important that the meaning isn’t lost in the wonderful noise. The HIRS Collective’s main talking points are inclusivity and safety, particularly for queer and trans folks.
“While aggressive sonically, we are collective of folks that want to provide care and support,” says the collective member. “Also, not being afraid to talk about the things we’re afraid of, or that bug us. In theory, it’s this never-ending support group.”
The HIRS Collective is often referred to as a “trans band” and, in some ways, that seems similar to how alternative rock bands in the ’90s were called “all-female” or “female-fronted.” Is labelling a band “trans” the same kind of tokenization?
“It depends on who’s saying it. It’s either a version of tokenization, or being excited about finding a band who has trans folks,” says the collective member. “Out of the massive amounts of members we have, there’s trans folks, there’s cis folks, we have non-binary, we have intersex. The spectrum is bananas.”
The collective members aren’t offended to be called a trans band, because their roots are pissed-off, queer, and trans.
“We’ve set it up like that. As long as you’re not a ding dong, it’s chill to call us a trans band. But if you’re trying to say you’re not transphobic because you listen to HIRS, that’s not how it works, friend.”
An emotional gut-punch track on The Third 100 Songs is “Say Her Name,” which lists all of the documented trans women who were killed during the year preceding the song’s release. Proceeds were donated to the Attic Youth Center, Women Against Abuse, and Morris Home, which supports trans women’s mental health.
“These women were taken away from us and we are saying their names in the song, and it felt really powerful to do that.”
The collective’s serrated sound is not meant scare people away, it’s just its chosen method of expression. Often, the emotions and purpose will shine through and pleasantly surprise people.
“We’ve been very happy to hear folks say, ‘It’s not my type of music, but it is my type of message.’ Lots of people say it was entertaining and fun. Great, ‘Entertaining.’ You felt as safe as you could feel, and supported— solid. We nailed it.”
One of the reasons The HIRS Collective keeps the main members’ identities a secret is to eliminate the hierarchy of traditional bands. Bonus points come from an element of mystery.
“We think mystery is sexy, but the main reason of being a whole unit instead of ‘this person does this, this person does that,’ is it is taking away one person being more important than the other,” says the collective member.
Bands almost always have someone that takes up more space or has their name more attached to the group’s public profile. Thinking of most bands, it’s rare to see them as completely equal units.
“Often there’s a tier of who is more important,” says the HIRS collective member. “The reason we like to collaborate with so many folks, or invite them to be part of the collective, is to say: ‘This is all of us. There is no one person more important than anyone else.’ It removes that fame or coolness, and people pay attention to the actual art and collaborative work.”
Okay, here’s the difficult part. Certain collective members are named when they are “guests” on songs. Given HIRS’ blistering grind sound, where only the trained ear could pinpoint which guest sings on what songs, perhaps this is a form of recognition and thanks for their contributions.
So, here we go… The Third 100 Songs sees lifetime membership cards given to Shawna Potter of War on Women, Sadie “Switchblade” Smith from GLOSS, Marissa Paternoster from Screaming Females, Rosie Richeson from Night Witch, and too many others to list right now (remember, this thing has 100 songs on it). While we’re at it, the collective’s last full album proper, 2018’s Friends. Lovers. Favorites. included Laura Jane Grace, Eric Freas of RVIVR, and Martin Sorrondeguy from Los Crudos and Limp Wrist, among others. But here we are— talking about names.
“We’ve reached out to folks and they’re reached out to us to saying it would be cool to collaborate on a track,” says the collective member. “Nine times out of ten, the easiest way is to pick something for them, instead of giving them 30 songs to choose from. We try to make sure we offer as much creative control as possible, because that’s the point.”
The Third 100 Songs is crammed with completely barn-burning blasts and the vast majority of the compilation’s songs are under one minute long. It includes material from split 7-inches, cassettes, flexi discs, split LPS, and probably every other format imaginable.
“It just felt like a fun tradition, ritual, whatever. When we had the first 100 songs it was, like, ‘Oh shit, 100 songs on a LP,” and then we had another hundred… ‘What should we call it?’ Considering the collective doesn’t have an age range, or a time where people can’t join or be part of it, we’re hoping one day we’ll put out a compilation that’s the first 1,000 songs,” laughs the collective member.
The HIRS Collective have also become known for its covers. They have included a split release with pals Romanic States from Baltimore (“we enjoyed doing versions of their poppy songs”), grind interpretations of Screaming Females, 10 one-second Godstomper songs, and a Nirvana covers split with Louisiana sludgers Thou.
“We think it would hilarious if we got a cease and desist from Courtney Love.”
Check out The Third 100 Songs below, and grab a copy on limited edition 2xLP vinyl here, but be quick, there’s not many of the 500 left!
Images courtesy of the HIRS Collective. Featured image credit Tk Memis.
Interview by Jason Schreurs